Update from the Chairman and Vice-Chairman: Criminal Legal Aid

1 April 2014

The Bar Council has consistently opposed the Government's proposed cuts to criminal legal aid since they were first announced in April 2013.  See, for example, our detailed responses to the two consultation papers here and here and  our reaction to the Government's announcement of 27 February 2014.

While recognising the Government's need to make significant cuts in expenditure, the Bar Council has called for a proper, considered review of legal aid: see the 4 June 2013 press release here. We also supported the call for the proposed changes to the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) to be deferred to allow for consideration of the review of criminal advocacy services being carried out by Sir Bill Jeffrey and, following its announcement on 27 February 2014, the review of Crown Court proceedings by Sir Brian Leveson.

On 27 March 2014, the Government made an announcement here which indicated that it had listened to the Bar.  In particular, it announced that:

  1. There would be a review of the AGFS by summer 2015 "with an open mind".

  2. There would be no cuts to AGFS fees before summer 2015, which would allow time for consideration of the results of the Jeffrey review, the Leveson review and the AGFS review.

  3. Consideration would be given to alternatives to the VHCC scheme, including the GFS+ scheme proposed by the Bar Council.

This announcement gave the criminal Bar a number of significant things which they had been asking for.  We therefore joined the leaders of the Criminal Bar Association and the leaders of all but one of the Circuits in welcoming the announcement here

As was to be expected, the announcement involved an element of compromise.  This was inevitable if a way forward was to be found which avoided the prospect of major disruption to the criminal justice system and adverse consequences for our clients as well as for the Bar, both individually and as a whole.  However, the announcement followed discussions with the Government involving the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the CBA and the leaders of all of the Circuits.  Moreover, on 26 March 2014 the Executive Committee of the CBA and heads or other representatives of chambers across the circuits were consulted on the announcement and we understand that a substantial majority were in agreement. 

As was also to be expected, not everyone agrees with the course which has been taken.  The CBA has called a ballot to ascertain their members' views on this important subject.  Those who are not members of the CBA are also making their views known. 

We encourage all members of the criminal Bar to support the announcement and hope that we, as a profession, can work to build a sustainable future for the criminal Bar by engaging constructively in the reviews which have been announced. 

Nicholas Lavender QC                                                             Alistair MacDonald QC
Chairman of the Bar Council                                                   Vice-Chairman